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Originally published June 18, 2009 at 2:14 PM | Page modified June 19, 2009 at 3:29 PM

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Movie review

"Year One" is a Neanderthal effort with Jack Black

"Year One": A Neanderthal effort from Harold Ramis, starring Jack Black and Michael Cera. Review by Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars

"Year One," with Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Hank Azaria. Directed by Harold Ramis, from a screenplay by Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, brief strong language and comic violence. Several theaters.

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MOVIE REVIEW 2 stars

Like "Life of Brian," but minus the British accents and most of the wit, Harold Ramis' "Year One" is set in the ancient world. It's an unfortunate comparison that does "Year One" no favors, but it keeps popping up: During a stoning scene, I kept hoping somebody would pipe up with a suspicious "Are there any women here today?" No such luck.

Our two guides for this journey through history are Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera, of "Juno" and "Superbad"), a pair of hapless hunter-gatherers seeking a better life. Zed, convinced he's meant for better things, eats the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge (it has "sort of a knowledgy taste," he muses) and soon the two are running from their small community and seeing the rest of the world, which includes encounters with Cain and (briefly) Abel, Abraham and Isaac, and the raunchy city of Sodom.

Ramis, whose main contribution to comedy history is the sublime 1993 classic "Groundhog Day," gives "Year One" an oddly tossed-off quality; it seems like one of those ideas cooked up over a late-night dinner and never fully developed. The swaggering Black and vaguely ethereal Cera make a funny Mutt-and-Jeff duo, and each finds a few comic moments. (Oh, nervously eyeing the flame for human sacrifice, murmurs what he hopes is a rhetorical question: "These virgins, it's always a girl, right?") Hank Azaria, who's reliably perking up would-be comedies these days ("Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"), is a circumcision-obsessed Abraham; David Cross makes a funny gag of perpetually dodging the question of whether he killed Abel (Paul Rudd, in a brief cameo).

But mostly "Year One" moves along ploddingly, stepping frequently into bathroom humor and never quite funny enough to justify its high concept; when it's over, it quickly slips away. Ramis and his co-writers are coasting here: The story is ancient, but the jokes shouldn't be.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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